China highlighted in MapMaker Interactive. If you can’t have trouble reading the labels, the red line is the approximate area of Tibet, and the brown area points to Lhasa. The yellow label on the top right identifies Beijing
In the last post we started using MapMaker Interactive– a free mapping tool on the National Geographic Education website– to explore just two of its thematic layers: Lights at Night and Population Density. As promised, this post will take you to deeper into the data to show how MapMaker can reveal patterns, anomalies, and–I would argue–stories about the planet and the people on it.
Now, scroll over to East Asia. First, look at the Lights at Night layer and quiz yourself: What is that isolated bright dot in southwestern China? If you guessed it is the lights of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, you’re correct. The city has been heavily developed by the Chinese government in recent years. For more, see these articles on the Tibetan railway by the BBC and China’s Xinhua (disclaimer: Xinhua is a government-run news source).
Looking east and northeast of Beijing, two dark coastal regions should catch your eye (see screen shot below). (You can change the base map [Map Mode] to “National Geographic,” in order to better view the oceans and country labels). Most of the coastlines here in China, Japan, and Taiwan are brightly electrified. Instead of toggling back and forth between layers using the transparency feature, you can use the Freeform Draw tool to outline the dark regions that you’re interested in. That way, you can toggle between layers without changing the transparency. This is really good for homework reports or class presentations on PowerPoint, which are static.
Switching to the population density layer you should encounter a big surprise (see screen shot below) The patch on the upper right corner of the map has very sparse population density, while the patch on the left is very dense. If you hadn’t guessed it already, the patch with lots of people and few lights is North Korea, a country notorious for shortages of electrical power (as well as food scarcities and human rights abuses).
One more observation on this population/settlement/development tangent and you’re done: Compare the outline of China to the population density map, and you can almost see the line formed by human settlement.
Settlement patterns have many factors. By using these few layers in MapMaker Interactive, we’ve seen some of the physical (proximity to coastlines, latitudes closer to the poles) and political (country boundaries) factors. It’s nice to learn this way, not by gulping down a textbook, but by sipping through our own exploration–isn’t it?
Remember, here are some more fun mapping explorations you can try:
- Plate tectonics and elevation: When are they linked, when are they not?
- Global time zones & national boundaries: for such a natural phenomenon, time has an oddly political definition…
- The distribution of phytoplankton is uneven around the world. Can you explore this phenomenon in the ocean chlorophyll map and try to explain why?
- Where do your relatives live? Plot them using the markers and drawing tools. Try to find the best extent (composition), scale (zoom) and map mode (some zoom in more than others) to fit them on the page. Does distance correlate to how much you talk to them or see them (try the measuring tool)? If not, why?